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Archive for March 16, 2017

ConCoction 2017

As the storm whipped the snow around the building outside, the Eternian man-at-arms made his way past the pool and into the gloomy cavernous lobby of the hotel – a small ghost floated by his shoulder and he found himself following the green Dalek down the hall. No one batted an eye. After all, this is ConCoction.

As it neared the piles of records and old videotapes guarded by a sign that simply read “free” the Dalek found itself stuck and unable to proceed. His companion asked “what’s wrong Skarino? ”

“Stuck!  Un-able to pro-ceeeeed!”

“What’s the matter?”, his companion queried.

“Carrrr-pet! Carrrrr-pet! ”

Dalek Skarino was given a friendly shove, freeing him from the snag and proceeded to make his way down the hall towards the opening ceremonies. Dalek Skarino is one of the hosts at ConCoction, usually found in the ConSuite (a lounge area with food, drink and books available to relax with) or hosting improv games like the Doctor Whose Line Is It Anyway? (which would occur the next day).  This year he was joined by Vladimir Snape, a Alan Rickman impersonator who has to be seen to be believed – it’s more than just the costume, it’s the intonation and attitude with which he holds himself. It’s dead on, and when he whips out his illuminated wand, you had better watch out!
During the opening ceremonies we were also introduced to musical guests like Tom Smith and the Blethering Humdingers, as well as cosplay guests Mogshelle, Super Kayse, and Nerd Girl – affectionately referred to as the Charlies Angels of cosplay. I was just happy to have finally gotten in early enough to catch the opening ceremonies and learn a little more about ConCoction!

ConCoction is an entirely fan run convention, it’s non-profit and very much done old school. I mentioned last year in my review that it reminds me a great deal of the Star Trek conventions that I used to attend as a kid… There’s a reason for that – the people here who work at this con and organize it are vetrans of that sort of show, it’s not a big corporation merely trying to cash in on fandom (like say, the Wizard World con that’s blowing into Cleveland this weekend…) This convention is done with the care and attitude of an old literary convention mixed in with some renaissance fair and Sci-Fi con style.

It’s my second year at the show and I started to run into friends almost immediately, Jason and Tina ambushed me in the lobby and of course I had to stop to let my little Orko dual with Snape! the first event I made it to, ended up being Tom Smith’s performance. Smith is a fun humour songwriter. He pulls up with his guitar and begins to sing songs about fandom, about fairytales, anything really that comes to his mind…delivering it with his own twisted sense of humour. It’s exactly the sort of filk exhibition that ConCoction is full of. Indeed I spent a great deal of Friday night in musical performances.
Vlademir Snape was next. In addition to being a dead-on impersonator, he’s also a talented musician and the front man for a band called Platform One. He was solo here however, performing mostly cover songs in the sort of dark and haunting style you would naturally expect from Hogwart’s potion master. He interacts with his audience frequently, which really connects you to him. It’s delightful to watch him look devilishly at the girl in the front row and promise “we’ll do something upbeat this time!” just before launching into Nine Inch Nails’ “hurt”. I got some of that business myself, as I snuck into his second performance the next day in full Jor-El regalia, complete with Baby Superman. He kept glancing over, and trying not to laugh until finally breaking down and announcing “I’d just like to point out, I’m really enjoying the baby in the rocketship! “. I felt bad when Jason came to retrieve me out of the song said so that I could do his phantom make-up!

The Confused Greenies Patchwork Players were back this year of course… The improv troupe has been a part of ConCoction since its first convention in their set seems to expand a little bit every year. This time around in addition to doing improv games, they were also doing two plays – an hour each, semi improvisational with distinctly fan-based subject matter. Friday night was the tri-wizard tournament of 1594, followed Saturday night’s Beauty IS the Beast – a slightly more adult to take on the beloved classic, presented in a very farcical way. Triwizard was reasonably mild while Beast was evening programming. Of course, as the Greenies would warn before every act, “If your kids get the jokes, it’s YOUR fault, not ours!”

The Confused Greenies were joined by this years musical guests of honor the Blithering Hummdingers (How on earth did autocorrect get that name right anyhow????). This duo bills themselves as “Wizard Rock”; a folky sort of acoustic rock rooted in Harry Potter lore with smatterings of fan culture. This seems like a GREAT idea.

It really does.

It sounds like a perfect match.

I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it was the fact that they were following the excellent performance from Vlademir Snape or perhaps it was the really esoteric nature of some of thier songs…perhaps I just don’t get the humor but whatever it was, this just wasn’t my thing. While technically proficient and excellent musicians this act kind of left me cold. Still, the integration wit hteh improv troupe was pure genuis and a perfect idea. I think I enjoyed thier bits during the Triwizard tournament more than thier actual sets!

There was a serious Harry Potter influence this year. If you didn’t know that the convention’s theme this time around was supposed to be “Grimm Faerie Tales” it’d be easy to assume it was a Potter con. I headed upstiars to check out the tail end of the Harry Potter panel comparing and contrasting the books with the movies. It’s a shame I’d lost track of time because I really would have liked to have seen more of this one.

Down the hall was the art show. While an artist alley is commonplace at a Comic convention, it’s not seen nearly as often at a sci-fi/fantasy show like this, and even then it’s usually squished into a corner of the dealer’s room. At Concoction, the artists are given thier own space, and are free to display the work they want to highlight and focus on. It’s an interesting concept, in it’s own way acting as a secondary dealers room. Sleepy Robot, one of my favorites, was there with a bunch of new adorable bot’s I’d never seen before, and over at Nigel Sage’s booth, they made sure to show me the Stained glass Superman print. My Little Demon (a Pony parody) was set up as well, and I was 17191484_1850562725160383_4410486832439811261_nparticuarly enthralled by the darling “Squirty Pie” demon – an unholy mix of pony and octopus. I made sure to snag one of Travis Perkin’s ConCoction prints.

Dinner ended up being a bit of a challenge in the Man-At-Arms armor. I expected straws! The biggest problem was that face guard that keeps me from being able to see anything below my nose also acted as a barrier to getting a sandwich into my mouth, forcing me to twist my neck to the left if I wanted to bite or sip. And only the left…because Orko blocked me on the right.

Yeah, I know. Descriptions about the perils of cosplay at dinnertime don’t really make for the best description of a convention! But it’s my experience after all…

I tried to make better use of the Consuite this year, socilizing more (and boy is that ever a challenge in of itself for an introvert like me…but then again, that’s one of the fringe benefits of con culture…. common ground)and hanging out with people there rather than just using it as a pit stop to eat or drink.

I caught one of my friends from Pop! The Comic Culture Club just outside the entrance and we loitered in the hallway chatting about the best eras for Superman and Batman, deconstruction vs a heroic purity and why DC just can’t figure out what to do with Superman. He expressed outrage that I was going with the Russel Crowe Jor-El instead of a full on 60’s version in a green tunic and gold headband. You know, there are some life choices I never expected to be questioned about…..

It was his second year here as well – I’d hear that several times over the course of the weekend. It seems like a lot of people really discovered ConCoction last year, and it’s definitely the kind of event that draws you back.

I grabbed a quick Martini at the Barfleet party. Since thier logo features a martini glass I figured it was a safe bet, however the apprentice bartender expressed some doubt. Never fear, their veteran barkeep managed to whip one up, shaken-not-stirred complete with onion juice for flavor! Still, Friday night the party was slow so I headed back out to see what else was going on. I was game for the variety show. The burlesque performance was just finishing up and I was just in time to hear Pete Mako pound his acoustic guitar. I genuinely enjoy Pete, and I’ve aught his act both here and at ZipCon. He was followed by the fanboy based stand up of Dan Brown. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating; I love that stuff like Stand-up and improve comedy are a part of this con. It’s such a rare thing to see at an event like this and it’s always a good time.

I realized that at 11:00 I’d better head home. Sleep is always in short supply during a con weekend, but I knew that by the time I got home, I’d be turning around and coming back in less than seven hours. It was cold in the void outside the hotel walls. Wind whipped the snow around my car. I turned on the headlights and plunged into lightspeed.

I pulled back into the Sheraton about ten minuets after eight the following morning. The Consuite wouldn’t be open until nine and there wasn’t really any programming going on (other than the gaming demonstrations downstairs – and sadly, I’m not much of a gamer anymore). Still, when I left on Friday night, I notice three or four parking spots had opened up and i wanted to arrive early enough in the hopes that they’d still be vacant. There were eight or so spaces free in the morning. Parking is still the single biggest issue I face with ConCoction. It was a key factor in keeping me away for the first two years and I know I’m not the only one. At 8:30, there were still a couple spots open, but it would be tough to find them. Parking was full before 8:45. I overheard grumbling about the situation all weekend from at least half a dozen sources. It was so pervasive it even made it into some of the comedy entertainment. That Sheraton lot fills up WAY to quickly and to be stuck paying four times the Sheraton rate for an airport lot invariably leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths. This is an issue ConCoction HAS to find a way to address.

I ran inside and paid the con rate for the local lot (three dollars, compared to $12-$15 at the airport lots), then checked out the records and tapes (seemingly untouched from the previous day). I discovered some Kenny Loggins and a few soundtracks for my collection as well as some Lawrence Welk and Andy Williams for my parents. From the VHS stack I selected only the ones with nothing written on the label. We’ll play some VCR Russian roulette with these later as we go through that stack and find out what’s on them! About quarter till nine I stacked up my armor and lugged it just inside the doors (it was too cold to dress outside like I usually would), suited up and went off to find breakfast for me and baby Kal-El.

In the Consuite I was greeted at the counter with a hearty “You’re back!”. Across the room, the lady sipping coffee at a table added “His front too!”.

ConCoction is pun central. I expected nothing less.

After signing up for the costume contest I made my way down to “Introduction to Cosplay : What do I do with this stuff?”. It was a charming panel about how to get started, finding cloths and items at thrift stores. I love these kind of panels, because they always give me ideas and I was fascinated to see some of the props that had been created out of items I never would have dreamed of using! The host asked me how long I’d been creating armor (“Um….well…when did Iron Man 3 come out?”) and what that progression was like. It was fun to share a little in this context.

In this same vein was the makeup panel with Cosplay guest Super Kayce. I was curious to see what her techniques were  as her Bizzaro Supergirl gave normal Supergirl a black eye (Actually pretty much the behavior you’d expect from Bizzaro actually). Super Kayce kept running into problems though.

“You have such a small face!” She protested, correcting the size of the bruise with the sweep of a brush. “How 17308763_1468477419863343_1049149228081279977_nhave I never noticed you have SUCH a small face?”

I caught Cassandra Fear’s panel next. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. Fear’s Confection is a candy maker that is constantly popping up at stops around the con circuit. I usually see a plate of thier Star Wars themed candy at Carol and John’s Christmas party or superhero and sci-fi themes at NEO comicon, ect. As a result,  I’m familiar with the name. Less so with the face. It was interesting to hear about her background, and the challenges of figuring out how to create unique candies such as Groundhogs for Groundhog day, or trying to figure out the logistics of making a chocolate Lament Configuration box.  I also finally heard the whole story behind her “Trump Dump” candies, filling in a couple of details the news stories tended to gloss over (in particular the way she was misled about food vendors for the RNC in Cleveland). It was interesting and seems a lot less mean spirited than the previous impression I had gotten, and that’s nice, because Cassandra has been nothing but sweet and charming every time I’ve encountered her.

I managed to catch a teensy bit of the Tangent-Bound network’s Podcast panel. I’m an avid fan of podcasts and occasionally fight back the temptation to start one myself. I’m fairly certain I’m better off as a listener than a creator in this instance, but listening to them, it’s nice to feel like I could if I really wanted to.

Pre-Judging for the costume contest was almost here. You know what that means? It means it’s time to bring out the rocket.

For about half of the day I’d been carrying around baby Kal-El in a basket full of blue red and yellow blankets, however earlier in the week I’d decided on a whim to build a full rocket for him, complete with blinking lights and a compartment the doll would fit into so I could “Launch” the escape pod. The Styrofoam wings had held just fine on the car ride out and I managed to not break anything as I retrieved it from the car. As I waited in the hall for my turn, I set the rocket on a chair. As my name was called, I adjusted my grip and twisted the spaceship in exactly the wrong way.

There was a sicking snap as the left wing brushed against the back of the chair and popped off.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Even if I’d remembered to bring a glue gun (I forgot it in my hast to get to the hotel early) there was no time. I rotated the ship and prayed it would look like it was SUPPOSED to only have two fins.

Prejudging at ConConction is always a fairly painless process. It’s nice because you get to talk a bit about your theory and method, and actually explain what goes into things leaving you free to actually concentrate on the audience during the masquerade rather than the judges. I saw the lady warrior from League of Legends and her husband who I’d been hanging out with back in the Consuite parading in to pre-judging right after me. I wished them luck and headed out to find Jason, a friend who wanted my help with his Phantom of the opera makeup.

After grossifying Jason and grabbing a proper lunch with Supergirl, Doctor Strange and a couple of other folks I just met I headed over to Pete Mako’s “Psychology of Cosplay” panel. Pete’s a part of this world, Convention, fandom, anime and cosplay. But he also has an education in psychology and brings a whole new perspective to the hobby. He described a study he’d been a part of and broke down demographics as they related to the cosplay community. There was a lot there that was exactly as I expected, things like who it appeals to and how people got into it. There were a lot of elements that were completely counter-intuitive to what I had imagined. I may have learned more at this panel than any other event of the entire con.

We all piled out of the panel and straight into the lineup for the masquerade, and in a way, it was a bit of a relief to finally be done with it. I summoned up all the chutzpah I possessed and recited Marlon Brando’s monologue from Superman ’79 as I lowered Baby Kal-El into the rocket on stage and prepared the ship for launch.

Then I looked at the roof and decided I better not let the escape pod blast off inside the hotel. Someone was bound to lose their deposit.

After over ten hours in the armor I  was finally able to shuck it off and eat a meal without the suit constricting my movement! You never know how much a luxury full range of motion is untill you try to bring an apple up to your lips and can’t quite reach without something ripping….

When I entered the Consuite, I spied Andy Hopp with a fist full of cards, playing a game of Dementalism with Dr strange and another companion. The cards spread across the table in a 6 x 6 grid with additional rows in front of each player… As I previously mentioned, I’m not particularly good at games but I’ve always been a fan of Andy’s art work which keeps coming 17308860_1468477103196708_9144397976912187959_nacross my path in the form of books and posts and of course the OddMall advertisements– Andy is the one who runs that event. I loaded up a plate and sat down. As Andy was explaining to me that the most flatulent player gets to take the first turn, the woman across the table from him flipped the card and declared that he must finish the round with his eyes shut until the next turn. When Andy was once again able to see, he noted the card That Doctor Strange flipped and informed all of us at the table that there was a house rule stating every time this card was played everyone had to eat a pickle. He got up and ran over to the bar, returning with a bowl full of dill slices which he proceeded to pass around.

Way back at the top of the article, I mentioned Doctor Whose Line is it Anyway? It’s 17264260_1468477186530033_6600793639397737791_nexactly what you think it is. Improv games with a fandom twist. It’s also quickly becoming my favorite part of this show. Dalek Skarino introduced the event;

“We;come to Doctor Who’s Line is it Anyway! Where the points don’t matter and the loser is EX-TERM-IN-ATED!”

“And the winner is EX-TER-MI-NATED…”

“…gently.”

By the time it was  finished it was late enough for the barfleet party to have started up again, and we made our way around the corner, back into the hallway where the music was already pulsing. As I stood in line for a drink my lip curled in slight disdain as the opening beats of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines flooded the air. The scowl turned 17308811_1468477093196709_7071554643056951811_ninto a grin when I realized the DJ was actually playing Weird Al Yankovic’s Word Crimes instead. I found myself a piece of wall to hold up back where someone had set up at selfie station – the only place in the barfleet party where photographs were allowed.

“So what’s your story, “Andy asked me

“I don’t really have one,” I replied.

“Nonsense,” Andy retorted. “Everyone has a story! Start with your birth!”
“Well now,” I considered. “That’s a tough one, since I don’t know anybody who’s actually there…”

“Not even yourself? ”

“Can anyone REALLY know themselves?”

These are the kind of conversations you’re going to hear at the place like ConCoction, and nobody is even drunk yet…

I peered down at my glass as a large man in a kilt joined us and asked what I was drinking. I pondered it  for a moment.

17203057_1850562581827064_1805468780791048993_n“it’s…. It’s blue.”

“They had red back there to ”

“We should try the red next,” I nodded. Andy decided to mix the two and make something purple while Doctor Strange decided to go with a sensible, normal drink.

Under the swirling lights and the Bon Jovi dance remix, The Phantom of the Opera swished past the man in the kilt, and I waved hello, greeting him before he vanished with his wife and a photographer into the depths of the party.

ConCoction is unique as conventions go… It’s still young, but it feels like a mature convention – one that’s been around long enough to know how to run things smoothly and cater to its audience. As you can see, it’s such a unique experience that I have to  write a blog post the size of a book just to convey the gist of my weekend there. It’s one of those shows like wasteland that’s an experience, a reunion, and a party – and one I think I’m always going to look forward to returning to.